Tuned Out 1.1

Cecilia Casement is no Casals, but what she lacks in virtuosity and sensibility she more than compensates with crude audacity and femme fatale looks. Her random interjections of sliding chromatic scales add an unpredictability which enthralls and shocks in equal measure. You never know when it’s going to happen, even the other ensemble members don’t know when she’s going to inject her trademark rebellion into the traditional jigs and reels which dominate the group’s repertoire.

“It just comes over me, I don’t think, now is the time to do it, it’s not something that’s rehearsed, you know,” she was quoted to have stated in a recent interview, “it’s like there’s a bolt of electricity running through me, like I’m standing on the top of a mountain and get struck by lightning.” The article continues to mention that she is the most recent member to have joined the group and that nothing is known about her background.  When the journalist asked about her musical career and how she had come to join the group, she said, “I’m bored with this now, talk to Sean,” and walked out.

Sean Cullen, the founder of the group and last remaining original member, was more than happy to talk about the long tradition of music in his family, but was unable to shed any further light on Cecilia. She had joined them on stage at a Fleagh in August last year. Less than halfway through the set, their flute player seemed to have lost it and just sat in his chair apathetically having let his instrument drop to the ground. At the time, they thought Dave was drunk and hadn’t realised that he had suffered a stroke. “All of a sudden, there she was standing beside me, looking every bit as lethal as she does now. She still won’t sit down when she plays, it’s part of her thing that she’ll play the cello standing, but boy, you could sense that the crowd stopped breathing the moment she started playing. Man, you’ve heard her play, her style is so raw that it feels cruel, there’s no ornamentation, no softness, and then when one of those insane glissandi of hers tore into the set of reels we were in the middle of dashing through, the whole place erupted into cheers and applause. The rest is history.”

Carmel rubs her chin and looks up briefly from the glossy pages to smile and nod a yes to Mary’s offer of a refill of coffee. It’s a rare and remarkable achievement for a local trad group to get featured in a glossy music magazine. Up until that day in August of last year, they’d just been one of many loosely bound groups of musicians who played sessions in local pubs throughout the year and did their own thing here and there, then got together for the Fleaghs and Trad Music Festivals as a recurring, temporary unit. Sean, a talented fiddle player in his early thirties, was the one with the drive and ambition, and had managed to pull together a group of five musicians including himself. Before Cecilia arrived on the scene, that unit had never included a cellist. The instruments had always been fiddle, played by Sean himself, of course, acoustic guitar, played by a string of different musicians throughout the early years, until Sean’s cousin, Aoibhe, came on board, double bass, initially it was Sean’s old elementary school teacher who had played bass but he had passed away in July last year and Stefan Kufner, a German software developer who had come to Ireland on holidays some twenty years ago and decided to drop everything in his home country and relocate to the abundance of wind and rain in the west of the island, has been filling that spot since, mandolin, played by Brenna Gavin-Kufner, and flute, which had been played by the unfortunate Dave O’Geoghegan.

Sean is also the main vocalist whenever they perform ballads as part of their set with Brenna providing the backup vocals and harmonies. Cecilia doesn’t like to sing according to the write-up, but she hums along to the cello in a dissonant fashion which has garnered quite some adoration among the ever-growing fan base. There’s no mention of Dave beyond the fact that he suffered a stroke at the concert which led to a turn of fate for the band. Cecilia, along with her cello, her lightning strikes of chromatic scales, and her dissonant humming, not only replaced the flute but also triggered a change of the band name, a condition she had placed on her staying on as a permanent band member. The Cullen 5 were renamed to We String You Up as a concession to Cecilia joining the band.

“She’s just out of this world brilliant and gorgeous, isn’t she?”, Carmel spills a drop of coffee onto the magazine at the unexpected proximity of Mary right behind her, looking down at the open pages over her shoulder. “I’d love to have tagged along with them this morning,” Mary continues and uses a napkin to wipe the speck of coffee off the photograph of Cecilia on which it had landed.

“Oh, so they’re not here any longer? I was hoping I’d get a glimpse of her and the band over breakfast.”

“They set off early, she loves the ancient countryside around here and asked me about the hillfort up there,” Mary raises her arm and points in the approximate direction of the mountain range which can be seen from the B&B’s breakfast room, “She was bringing her cello along, too. Sean was carrying it for her. Now, I don’t know about you, I think you’ve come up here from Dublin and you’re likely not as superstitious as the folk around here, and I’m not from here either myself, but I know what the locals are saying about that place up there. They’re all staying away from it, it’s a fairy fort they say. Bad things happen when you interfere with it. I told her and she just laughed and said that when you’re a bit of a fairy yourself then you really don’t have anything to fear.”

© Ash N. Finn, 2017

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